Macro lenses are part of every professional photographer and videographers’ tool kit. They can be used for the typical close-up insect photography, but this post details their function so you can test their capabilities no matter what you’re shooting. So what is a macro lens, and how can you use one to its full potential?

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Macro Lens Photography & Video

Defining the macro lens

Before we dive into some of the benefits of macro lenses, it’s important to know its purpose and function.

MACRO LENS DEFINITION

What is a macro lens?

macro lens is a camera lens designed to capture small subjects at close distances. There are two important distinctions between a macro lens and a regular lens. A macro lens increases the magnification of the subject to make it look bigger. They typically project a 1:1 ratio, meaning the subject appears the exact same size as it is in real life. Some macro lenses also allow for the subject to appear bigger than their actual size.

Secondly, macro lenses have a shorter minimum focus distance than a regular lens. This means that you can get very close to the subject and still stay in focus to capture as much detail as possible.

WHAT IS A MACRO LENS USED FOR?

  • Magnifying subjects
  • Capture smallest details
  • Create shallow depth of field to make subject pop
  • Maintain focus at close distances

Before we get into the pros and cons of macro lenses, take a minute to download our FREE Ebook — Camera Lenses Explained Vol. 1 — where we cover everything you need to know about the different types of camera lenses, their unique visual characteristics, and how to use them.

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You might use a macro lens if you’re a nature photographer or videographer, to get those close-ups of flowers, insects, and raindrops. Take this example.

What is a Macro Lens - Example

NIKON D7000 + 105mm f/2.8 @ 105mm, ISO 1250, 1/160, f/16.0, see source

Macro lenses also have very small or shallow depths of field, which keeps only a narrow field of view in focus, creating a blurred background. This helps to isolate the subject and can create some quality looking images or footage.

But if you want a sharper image, you’ll have to make your aperture smaller. The problem with this is you’ll be letting in almost no light. Macro lenses are best used in well-lit environments. Watch the video below for more on this. 

More on macro

Macro Lens Uses

Quick tips on how to use a macro lens

But macro photography, and even videography doesn’t have to be all gross insects and raindrops. 

Check out how Peter McKinnon uses his macro as he goes over some benefits of the lens.

Why the macro lens

Using a macro lens isn’t too complicated when you understand its capabilities. Let’s go over some tips based off of what we already know.

Shallow Depth of Field

Remember, macro lenses have a really small depth of field. Blurred backgrounds are great, but what if you want to decrease the blur a bit. How would you increase the depth of field?

This is where knowing what aperture is becomes vital. 

What is Aperture?  •  Subscribe on YouTube

In order to increase the focus area, you’d have to decrease the aperture (make the size of the opening in the lens smaller). This will make your background sharper. 

This is done by increasing the “f value.” F/16 is a high number but the aperture is very small. At this number, you’re shooting through something as small as a pinhole. 

While this increases your depth of field, it simultaneously strips you of light. You can raise the ISO on your camera to offset this. 

Lighting

Make sure your subject is surrounded by a ton of light when using a macro lens. Also, because a macro lens is so close to the subject, sometimes the camera itself could get in the way of your light source. Try using a ring light around your lens. 

Composition and Color

Even if you increase the depth of field, it’s likely your macro will shoot video with blurry backgrounds. Pick background colors that make your subject in the foreground pop. Contrasting or complementary colors can really change the game.

What is a Macro Lens - Color Example

Laowa 100mm F2.8 2x APO Macro, see source

Stabilization 

If you want professional looking footage, try setting your camera on a tripod when using a macro lens. The shake will be more noticeable on video than with still photography.

Free downloadable bonus

FREE Download 

Camera Lenses Explained

Every type of camera lens has distinct qualities and visual characteristics that every image-maker should understand. Download our FREE e-book to get in-depth explanations on prime vs. zoom lenses, anamorphic vs. spherical lenses, wide angle, standard, telephoto and even specialty lenses that all tell a slightly different story.

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Camera Lenses Explained Ebook - Book Cover

Up Next

What’s a Prime Lens?

The macro lens is a great addition to any filmmaker’s toolbelt. Another lens, probably even more practical, is the prime lens. It’s sheer versatility and value makes it a must-have for all-level photographers and filmmakers. 

Up Next: What's a Prime Lens? →

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  • Alyssa Maio is a screenwriter from New Jersey, now living in Los Angeles. She works as a copywriter here at StudioBinder.

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